tonight on "nightline," waiting for a miracle. a mother has to tell her son his father is among four missing miners trapped, and no one knows if he is alive or dead. it's an emotional report from the west virginia mine collapse. and, loose nuke. our cameras are there as a top secret team of americans flies in to saveguard a stash of nuclear material big enough to make a bomb. and then, a historic earthquake strikes. it's a "nightline" investigation. plus, royal rumors. exactly 30 years after his parents' fairy tale wedding, prince william may be ready to take his future queen.
why a royal wedding may just be the fix to a down economy in tonight's "sign of the times." >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, martin bashir and cynthia mcfadden in new york city, th is "nightline," april 7th, 2010. >> good evening. we begin again tonight in west virginia coal country, where toxic conditions earlier today disrupted the search for the four unaccounted for miners. but tonight, the danger has begun to subside, and a delicate drilling effort resumed that may soon allow rescue teams back into the mine. for the families of the four, the hope may be fading, but as david muir found out today, it is still alive. >> and just assure as death is, jesus christ is a sure savior. >> reporter: tonight, a candle light vigil in this tested part
of coal country. so many have lost fathers, grandfathers and sons. this pastor, a coal miner himself, led the prayer. >> in the name of jesus christ, amen. >> reporter: now more than 48 hours after the explosion, and there is still some hope here. four coal miners are still missing, and their families still waiting. waiting to hear it if the men made their way into rescue chambers. the wait has been excruciati. robin chapman had to tell her 1 13-year-old son he lost his father. >> when a child hurts, the mother hurts. and this baby, he's 13 years old, and he was hurting so bad. it's like -- i could feel the pain. i could feel what the little fella was going through. >> reporter: but then came new word that the boy's treasured father is one of the four still
missing. she went back to her son michael, who now sits at that mine hoping every hour for something, hoping he'll get that second chance for a reunion with his father. >> i started to pray. i said, i ask for you to give my son strength for what's getting ready to happen in these next few days. >> reporter: today, a stream of ambulances pulled into the coal mine, rescuers at the ready. de desperate to re-enter the mine. they were driven out by the danger in the beginning, but late today, the governor with the first test results. the air from inside the mine, still more lethal, more toxic than the air after the sago disaster four years ago. and the realization set in here that these rescuers will have to wait even longer. governor, i know you know the mines inside and out. had to be disappointing to see the readings today. >> hoping for better readings. for the sake of getting our rescuers in, that's what you're
hoping for here. >> reporter: so they understand when you say the numbers are too high to go in yet. >> they're the first that will tell you, do not put the rescuers in harm's way now. >> reporter: and then came late word tonight the more promising news that the air test results at the top of the first hole are now better. and as they dig a third hole, they're waiting to test the air there. if that's okay, the rescue teams will prepare to go in. and with rescue teams here having to wait, attention now turns to just how long a miner could actually survive, if he made it to one of those chambers. just 300 feet from that first hole that broke through sits one of those chambers. four feet high, 20 feet wide. >> they can go there and basically stay there for up to 96 hours and wait for rescue to come. >> reporter: they have 96 hours? >> they have 96 hours of oxygen. >> reporter: if there are fewer men, does the oxygen last longer? >> you would expect that to be the case. >> reporter: it is that sliver
of hope the family of ricky workman is holding onto. we were with them fatoday as th supported ricky's wife, wo. the rest of her family will not allow her to give up work. >> if i know ricky, he's coming out of there. if he got to the safety zone, he's coming out. yeah. >> reporter: you're praying he's in that claim per. >> oh, god, yes i am. >> reporter: and the crews doing the drilling here are counting on them. the first time you get a good reading, you can send rescue workers in? >> yes. >> reporter: the rescuers will enter the mine right here, ride in a mantrip that takes about 30 minutes to get to this point. and then this is where they'll walk through the rest of the mine. all the way to that point, that claim per which was actually built here after the 2006 sago mine disaster, for this purpose alone. so many families here praying tonight that those missing
miners madechamber. perhaps no one more hopeful than that mother we met, who already had to tell her son once that he lost his father. she can't bear to do it again. >> i'm praying that his daddy, even though it's my ex, i pray for his sake that his daddy's alive. >> reporter: a 13-year-old, who waits here like so many others tonight, buoyed by the prayers and the collective hug of their neighbors here along the coal river. i'm david muir for "nightline" in west virginia. >> we will of course continue to monitor the search efforts. our condolences to the families who have lost so much already. when we come back, from the mine collapse to a potential terror threat. loose nukes, andhe secret american team in charge of securing them. [ male announcer ] you have dreams... goals for the future... what if they were # stolen from you? by alzheimer's.
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(announcer) the train has arrived indeed. amtrack. enjoy the journey. thanks for your help. it has been a big week already on nuclear issues, as president obama announced the u.s. will build no knew nuclear weapons, and prepares to sign a new nuclear treaty with the russians tomorrow. tonight, we all right on a top secret u.s. operation to secure vulnerable nuclear material in chile. part of an ongoing effort by the national nuclear security administration to keep this dangerous material out of terrorists hands. the nnsa has already retrieved over 150 bombs worth of material from dozens of countries, but the chile operation was different.
"nightline" investigates loose nukes. it was 3:34 in the morning on february 27th when the earth in chile began to shake. the 8.8 earthquake, one of the strongest ever on record, would soon draw the world's attention. but amid the chaos, on the outskirts of the chilean capital of santiago, there was something else happening out of sight. a highly classified, very sensitive operation by americans and chileans to secure weapons-grade nuclear material. exactly the kind of material terrorists are only too keen to get their hands on. "nightline" had been there for several days before the quake struck. documentinthe work of these men, the national nuclear security administration's threat
reduction team. invited in by chile. >> those are aluminum clad plates. we're actually not touching the uranium. it's kind of like a sandwich. >> reporter: this fresh, or unused fuel, doesn't emit high levels of radiation, so it's particularly vulnerable. easily to pick up and run with. and it only takes a small amount of highly enriched uranium, the size of a grapefruit, to make a nuclear weapon. >> putting the fuel plates into a single unit packaged together so when it gets back to our plant, it's easier for the operators to remove from the package. >> reporter: the u.s. team is here to pack up the highly enriched uranium from two research reactors that no longer need it. then ship it back to the u.s. to be stored and converted to
nonweap nonweapons grade material. >> what you really have in this operation is an effort to secure nuclear material that terrorists could acquire to make nuclear device, as well as raid logical material that they could acquire to make some kind of dirty bomb. >> reporter: an drdrew overseese progr program. >> that's just going to stay there. when the material is not here, terrorists can not acquire the material, the country is safer. that's the bottom line. >> reporter: there is reason to worry. nearly 40 countries around the world have highly enriched uranium, or mplutonium, ranging from multiple tons to a few kilo grams. enough to make over 200,000 nuclear bombs. and much of the material is not completely secure. there were nearly 250 reported thefts of nuclear and radio active material worldwide from july 2007 to june 2008.
back in chile, the team is also removing the extremely radio active and lethal uranium from the heart of the reactor. >> as long as there is highly enriched youranium, there is always a concern that something could happen to a facility. >> reporter: armed guards secure the perimeter as every bit of the material is weighed. so sensitive, so dangerous, it must be accounted for on every step of its journey. >> this baby ialmost ready to go. >> reporter: the next day, the earthquake strikes. the team is safe, but their mission has become infinitely more complex. the port they intended to ship the material from has suffered major damage. they have to secure another port and chart a whole new route. >> there is no power in this facility here. no running water. we're walking down the halls with flashlight. people are basically tripping
down the stairs because there's no emergency backup lighting. >> got my little blue light, walking down the hall of a nuclear facility with no power. >> reporter: we've never had to adapt to a situation like this. as dusk falls, the cargo is loaded onto trucks for the overnight journey to the port. >> the truck to my right contains the most attractive material from a terrorist perspective. it is fresh, highly enriched uranium, which means you can just hold it in your bear hands. so, our biggest concern is to make sure this container is protected. >> reporter: the stakes are very high. an attack on an american city with an improvised nuclear device could kill hundreds of thousands of people. and this is the riskiest part of the mission. moving the material. to ensure there's no sabotage prior to departure, dogs sniff
for explosives. but not everything goes smoothly. >> it's now 11:00 and as we said earlier, the plan was to leave at 10:00. >> the chilean police escort arrivemore than an hour late. >> all right. let's load up. here's the police here. >> reporter: then, another tremor at the new destination port. >> this is -- people is scared. >> reporter: but the team des to move forward. >> all right, let's get in the vans. >> reporter: just before midnight, the convoy pulls out under cover of darkness. the entire seven-hour drive, the nuclear material will be escorted by a chilean s.w.a.t. team. police on motorcycles lead the way. it's a race against time and terrorists. >> now they'll speed ahead and just keep doing that throughout the route. just back and forth as needed.
>> reporter: the group pulls over to the side of the road only once, to rmeet with materil from the second reactor. >> this is called category one, which means we now have enough material in this convoy to make one nuclear weapon. >> reporter: their mission, if successful, will clear all of chile of weapons grade material. the 18th country the u.s. will have cleared. >> it's about 4:45 in the morning and we're entering the port. >> reporter: the team works through the early hours of the morning, loading each container onto the ship, one by one. as the sun slowly rises over the port. >> thing of beauty. thing of beauty. no doubt about it. we'll feel a lot of relief when this leaves shortly. >> finally, nearly 12 hours of the caravan began its journey the last container is loaded. >> we're pretty exhausted, but
at the same time, we feel pretty exhilarated that we have done exactly what we came to do, in a safe and secure manner. >> reporter: if all goes well, the uranium will be sent to this secret, secure facility in the u.s. for storage. secretary of energy stephen chu is in charge of overseeing nuclear non-proliferation efforts. how hard is it to make a nuclear weapon once you have the material? >> quite frankly, a lot easier than it used to be. the hardest part of making a bomb is to get the material. that's why it's imperative that we get that material locked uptightly and away, essentially like a super ft. knox, where terrorists simply cannot get at it. >> reporter: two weeks after leaving chile, we watch as the boat carrying the last of the country's weapons grade nuclear material slips quietly into port at the charleston naval weapons station. >> this is one of the final
stages. about 2 1/2 hours later, it will be placed into protective custody. >> the mission is finally complete. part of a complex global effort. one potential loose nuke now under lock and key. but there is much more left to do to meet the president's goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material for more than two dozen countries in the next four years. next week in washington, the u.s. will host a world summit with the heads of more than 40 nations devoted to the topic. when we come back, we'll turn to the royal family, nearly 30 years later to see why wedding bells may once again may make perfect sense in tonight's "sign of the times." [ male announcer ] fishing pole, it's been a while. you stood in the basement gathering dust while i, sneezing, itching eyes kept you from our favorite stream. the one that runs through a field where pollen floats through the air. but now, with the strength of 24-hour zyrtec® to relieve my worst allergy symptoms,
>> announcer: "nightline" continues from new york city with cynthia mcfadden. >> we turn now to the royal family, and an heir to the throne who may soon be on one knee. it's been nearly 30 years since lady diana spencer married prince charles, with much of the world watching. now, as prince william and his long-time girlfriend kate middleton who may be hearing wefding bells. and though it is only a rumor, david wright explains why it is tonight's "sign of the times." >> reporter: it's the ultimate reality show. >> i charles phillip arthur george -- >> reporter: 750 million viewers last time. and 30 years later, it's about time for the sequel. tina brown of "the daily beast" touched off this latest frenzy.
>> i've been told that space is being cleared in mysteriously in the royal calendar for what, nobody knows, in june. >> reporter: hinting that prince william is about to pop the question. >> needless to say, that's been totally denied by everybody here. but of course they will deny this until the minute before they announce it. >> reporter: in fact, british book keyes recently shortened the odds on a royal wedding this year. it's now almost even money william will beat his younger brother to the altar. the prince is now 27. he said years ago he would probably wait until he's 28. and he's been dating kate middleton on and off for seven years. >> here in london, nobody is getting very fussed about it. people just want to let the kid get on with it. >> reporter: earlier this year, a wounded iraqi war vet bluntly asked the prince for an invitation. >> well, i'm trying to get an invitation for your wedding. >> you'll have to wait awhile yet.
>> reporter: the prince was good humored about it. but clearly he's feeling some pressure, before he's even made up his mind. people are already receiving souvenirs. his young bride to be is feeling the pressure, too. for her, the fairy tale comes with flashbulbs. paparazzi have hounded her for years. they've nicknamed her waity katie. and there was the fake she would be marrying above her nation. in snobbish great britain, a no-no. >> they are self-made folk. of the sort that everybody is supposed to admire but i'm afraid in britain still rather looks down on. >> reporter: her family is decidedly middle class. >> the damning thing, which i'm ashamed to repeat is that her mother is australian and an air hostess. but has done well in the world, and they, the parents make their money from receiving party games and party favors. if you want to give a nice party, you get in touch with the
middletons, and you can get streamers and funny hats. >> reporter: but that common touch is what most excites the american tabloids who are eager for a new celebrity storyline. as celebrities go, prince william, i'm sorry to say, you're a c-lister. >> reporter: bonnie fuller of hollywoodlife.com, says a lot of her readers are too famous to remember williams's famous mother, and in the ruthless logic of celebrity journalism, a wedding might be just the thing to raise the royal profile. >> two c-listers, when they get together and get married, come bust into an a-list. into an a-list couple. >> reporter: what better distraction from a terrible economy. >> there's a really bad temper in the country, and just with diana and charles, that wedding lifted england out of, that time, a bad recession. there's nothing better, frankly, for england right now. >> reporter: diana managed to
make even the thatcher years like like a fairy tale. should we expect anything less from her handsome son? >> this is like the beginning of a new realitshow, because they're real. they are -- they truly are living an incredible life of celebrity, and yet they're real people. >> reporter: at this point, waity katie is not the only one hoping for that happy ever after ding. i'm david wright for "nightline" in los angeles. >> no pressure prince william. we'll be right back. but first, here's jimmy kimmel with what's coming up next on "jimmy kimmel live." jimmy? >> jimmy: thanks, cynthia. tonight, luke wilson, aaron johnson and john lydon's hand p.i.l., for the first time in 18 years so, you know, watch.